A speaker on the fried chicken and green bean circuit at local farm winter annual meetings years ago used to talk about 'sleeping well on a cold, windy, winter's night.' He was a dairy farmer, and he said that's what he could do if he'd done everything he could and knew his cows would be comfortable during the night, no matter how cold it got.
Corn farmers may search for that feeling this spring when it comes to finding, buying and applying nitrogen for corn. The price is up, way up in some cases. But the good ness is that according to Bob Nielsen and Jim Camberato, Purdue University Extension agronomists, you can likely apply less than you have in the past and 'still sleep well' on those balmy, sticky summer evenings.
That partly depends upon how much you've applied in the past. But Nielsen and Camberato, as noted in preliminary findings a couple of weeks ago, are now confirming their data from the past two years makes them comfortable in saying that the old rule of thumb of 1 to 1.2 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of expected corn yield no longer applies in much of Indiana.
The pair has concluded that if you're after maximum yield in corn after soybeans in Indiana- on average- you need about 173 pounds of commercial N per acre. But at 60 cent per pound N and $4 corn, the economic optimum rate at which you realize the most profit is 147 pounds per acre, or nearly 30 pounds per acre less.
The kicker, however, Nieslen notes, is that actual optimum rates in any one season can vary plus or minus 30 pounds per acre. At 60 cent per pound N, a 60 pound swing from one extreme to the other amounts to more than a $35 difference in expenses. Unfortunately, for the most part, it's not possible to predict in advance which kind of year you're headed into. If you sidedress, you may have a better chance because you have a handle on early weather patterns by the time you apply N, and can also bump up or drop the rate based upon stand at that point in the season.
"If growers think they've had a lot of nitrogen loss prior to the time of sidedressing, they may want to bump the nitrogen rate up 20 to 30 pounds per acre, to account for the N they've lost," Nielsen comments. "Conversely, in a drier year where we expect much less N loss from the soil, growers may actually be able to back off those midpoint recommendations by 20 to 30 pounds per acre."
Backing off may take guts since 'more is better' is a rather ingrained philosophy in farmers, but the high price of N may make it a little easier to sleep at night, even if you're applying less N than in years past.